Promotion and Relegation in United States Soccer

During the past week, the MLS rejected a media rights deal from international media company MP & Silva that would have paid them $4 billion dollars over 10 years, as reported by the Sports Business Journal. This deal would have quadrupled what the MLS is taking home from their current media rights deal, so the question is: Why did they reject it?

While there are a lot of moving parts in something as complex as a media rights deal, many speculate that the MLS turned the deal down because it would have required them to put a promotion/relegation system in place.

If you are unaware of what promotion/relegation is, the idea is to reward clubs in lower levels with the top records in their league a chance to move up to the best league in the country, and to punish clubs on the top level with the worst records by sending them down a league. 

For example, in the English Premier League, one of the top leagues in the world, the bottom three teams with the least amount of points are relegated to the English Football League Championship (Think USL in United States). Then the top two teams in the English Football League Championship are automatically promoted to the English Premier League, with the 3-6 teams in the table playing a single elimination style playoff with the winner getting the third promotion spot.

Why is United States Soccer not using a promotion/relegation system? Good question. Back in the early days of the MLS, the argument was that the MLS was struggling to find enough strong franchises both on and off the field, basically accepting cities that would be willing to supply the infrastructure needed to host on MLS team. 

Fast forward to 2017, and we now know that's no longer the case. 12 cities put in bids for only 4 expansion spots, and only 2 of those 4 will likely be announced by the end of this year. The argument against pro/rel is a lot different now. The first two franchises accepted this year will have to pay an expansion fee of $150 million dollars, money that the MLS would not be receiving if pro/rel was in place. The last two franchises will also have to pay an expansion fee, and that fee could possibly increase. Even though pro/rel could be a hidden cash cow for the MLS, not many people in MLS headquarters are willing to turn down the, at least, guaranteed $600 million dollars that the four expansion franchises will happily give them just to see if a pro/rel system between the MLS and USL would work.

Odds are, as shown by the MLS rejecting the media rights deal mentioned above, that United States soccer will not see as a promotion/relegation system in place any time soon. Instead, it is likely that the MLS will continue to keep adding teams through its current expansion process, making each new franchise pay an exorbitant fee just to join. One has to wonder though if not having promotion/relegation is keeping the MLS from potentially building up to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world.

Do you think that soccer in the United States should use a promotion/relegation system? Would you be mad if a promotion/relegation system was implemented shortly after FC Cincinnati made it as a MLS expansion team?

Let us know! 


  1. I'm definitely for promotion/relegation in US Soccer. It guarantees you always have the best, most competitive, more motivated teams in your top flight. And it's absurd to have a 30+ team league. EPL has 20 teams, La Liga: 20 Bundasliga: 18 Serie A: 20 Ligue 1: 20.

    In a perfect world, MLS and USL/NASL would be combined to create a tiered league system. Teams would be required to start in USL or USL3 and gain promotion to USL/NASL and ultimately MLS.

    But that will never happen because of the all-mighty dollar. MLS clubs would have too much to lose, and USL would have everything to gain. It's the right thing to do but we won't it happen in our lifetimes.

    1. You couldn't have summed up my thoughts better. I'd love to see pro/rel, but the realist in me just can't see it happening.


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